This past January, the United States Postal Service announced that the price of a “forever stamp” was rising to 55 cents. When originally introduced in 2007, a forever stamp cost a mere 41 cents. Digging deep into my aging memory bank, and with a little parsimonious postal research, I discovered just how “dear” a first class letter has become since I first put pen to paper.
Back in July of 1949, my parents sent me to a girl scout camp near Harriman, New York. Since my mother saved every scrap of paper her kids wrote as we grew up, I recently discovered my scribbled notes home, pre-addressed and bearing 3-cent stamps. “Mom, I miss you and Bozo (our dog) so much, can I come home?” Mom later told me I sent four identical notes the entire two weeks I remained at Camp Robin Hood.
A decade later, as an American Field Service exchange student to Norway, I wrote Mom and Dad on those lightweight gossamer-thin blue tissue Aerograms that folded and glued together at the edges. I don’t know what they cost, but I remember that they provided enough writing space to describe the Windex-blue fjord outside my bedroom window and my futile attempts to speak Norsk with my host family.
After heading off to college in the early 1960s, my parents received my Dean’s-Other-List grades from Skidmore in envelopes mailed with a 4-cent stamp. Later in that decade, engraved invitations were sent to family and friends stating, “Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Burkhardt request the honor of your presence at the wedding of their daughter, Valerie Lucille…..” Because the invitation included an RSVP enclosure card, those thick white envelopes apparently needed more postage than the 5-cent stamp then required for first class mail.
In the months after I got married in 1967, my Crane ecru thank you notes, engraved with my new married name, bore 6-cent stamps. I recall struggling to be sincere in thanking friends for the six nearly-identical pairs of Towle sterling silver candle sticks I received. And it took every ounce of creativity to gush about the humongous silver grooved asparagus platter (2’x3’, I swear), complete with a pitcher for the requisite Hollandaise. (After several arduous cleanings with Twinkle Silver Polish, I happily deep-sixed that horror.)
Soon I was posting pink and blue birth announcements, in 1969 and 1971, each bearing 8-cent stamps. Within a few years, Alex and Chris were writing letters to Santa but I didn’t put stamps on those special envelopes. They went directly to the Christmas “to-do” list stashed in my purse for the next trip to Toys”R”us.
As the kids grew older, they enjoyed making hand-made Valentines and sending them to MomMom and PopPop in gummed-up red envelopes that toted 18-cent stamps. During their teen years, they mailed thank-you notes with 29-cent stamps to their grandparents for birthday and graduation gifts.
In the late 1990s, I kept a box of Kleenex on my desk as I answered loving condolence notes following the deaths of my mother and father. By then, the price of a first class stamp had risen to 33 cents. By then too, I had come to realize the deeper meaning of words I had written so many times to friends: “I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
In recent years, sending birthday cards and funny notes to my four Grands has come with a steady escalation of postal prices. I pasted a 37-cent stamp on Max’s first birthday card in 2002, then a 41 cent stamp on Maddie’s first Valentine in 2006. These days, when I send Star Wars-themed cards to my New York City grandboys, I’ll use forever stamps that sell for 55 cents.
That cost will never stop me from sending notes, cards or letters. Like “brown paper packages tied up with string,” few items put a smile on my face more than opening the mailbox and finding a hand-written note. As a wise and anonymous person once said: To write is human, but to receive a letter: DIVINE! No matter what it costs.